By Julia Walker, RN, BSN 4-Minute Read
Julia Walker, RN, BSN is a women's health nurse, writer, and member of the perry team. Perry connects and supports perimenopause warriors in a safe space to build friendships, learn, and laugh. The moment you think, “WTF, could this be menopause?”—join our sisterhood!
Intermittent fasting is one of the most common and popular methods for curbing food intake. But while it's completely buzzworthy right now, it's actually nothing new...humans have been practicing it throughout history. Perhaps what makes it so appealing is that its roots are embedded in hunter-gatherer societies, and consequently, our bodies may respond better to this pattern of eating compared to our modern-day food habits. Here's a look at everything you should know about intermittent fasting—and why it may be a useful tool in menopause.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
With intermittent fasting (IF), you follow a specific scheduled or cyclical eating pattern. The clock is the biggest factor in this type of diet: it requires you to space out your meals for a certain amount of time.
As noted above, this type of eating is not novel. People have turned to IF across the ages for various reasons, whether for religious practices, political statements, health optimization, or in response to rationing and food scarcity.
Today, some people use intermittent fasting to restrict themselves from eating for a specific length of time each day. Many people use intermittent fasting to help them lose weight; others may use it to feel better and optimize body functions, reduce inflammation, control blood sugar, and regulate metabolism.
If you think about it, everyone already practices intermittent fasting when we sleep. During sleeping hours, you're not eating, so you're naturally fasting during that time. Some people just choose to lengthen the time between their final meal before bedtime and when they break their fast the following day. There are many different ways to approach intermittent fasting, and some are more ideal for women in menopause than others.
Why Weight Gain Happens in Menopause
Weight gain is one of the more common (and, okay, dreaded) symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Truth is, most women will add a few extra pounds to their midsection starting around their 40s. The cause of this slight shift in the scale and body fat distribution? It's most likely the changing hormone profiles in perimenopause.
Your ovaries are a primary location where estrogen is produced, and when estrogen levels start to decrease, it can change where fat is located in the body.
Perimenopause is a time of hormone fluctuation. Estrogen and progesterone—your primary female sex hormones—are in flux during this life stage because ovarian function begins to decline. Your ovaries are a primary location where estrogen is produced, and when estrogen levels start to decrease, it can change where fat is located in the body. Incidentally, it also affects your metabolic rate, which is why you may experience weight gain even when your diet and exercise habits remain unchanged.
Aside from changes in metabolic rate, women in perimenopause and menopause may be more prone to changes in insulin sensitivity, as well as how they break down and use certain nutrients. And to further muddy the picture, perimenopause changes can also affect how you maintain muscle, causing you to begin to lose muscle mass along with estrogen.
Using IF to Curb Weight Gain in Menopause
While most women will experience a slight increase in weight around their middle in perimenopause and beyond, it isn't always healthy. Extra weight around your abdomen increases your risk for chronic health problems like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. So needless to say, the goal of preventing an increase in abdominal fat extends well beyond changes in your physical appearance.
Intermittent fasting is a common and often very successful dietary modification for women in menopause. One of the first reasons it can be effective? It doesn't restrict you from eating certain foods. And that's because people can struggle with diets that limit what you eat, especially because those off-limits foods are usually a things you crave or find difficult to avoid.
Another reason why IF is helpful for weight gain in menopause is that it can follow your body’s natural rhythms. For example, you can choose to fast overnight and then for a few additional hours in the morning. By fasting, you decrease the chance of partaking in the late-night snacking that may throw off your circadian rhythm and blood sugar function.
Intermittent fasting is a common and often very successful dietary modification for women in menopause.
Intermittent Fasting Options Include:
● Overnight Fasting: You fast for about 12 hours (or more). For example, you may stop eating after 7 PM and will not eat or drink anything aside from water until at least 7 AM the following morning.
● The 16/8 Method: You fast for 16 hours a day and eat during an 8-hour window. For scheduling, it usually looks like this: You stop eating after 8 PM and then don't eat again until noon the following day. Note that, while this happens to be one of the most common forms of fasting, it may be more beneficial for men than women, as women have different metabolic needs compared to men.
● 5:2 Fasting: This method spans a week and focuses on calorie restriction. Essentially, you allow yourself to eat normal calories and food 5 days a week and then severely restrict your caloric intake (like to 500 calories per day) for 2 days. The 2 days of calorie restriction should not be back to back.
● Whole-Day Fasting or Alternate-Day Fasting: There is some flexibility in when you do a whole-day or alternate-day fast, but people who adhere to this dietary practice often eat normally one day and then fast or severely restrict calories the next day.
4 Precautions When Using IF in Menopause
While IF has many positive attributes for certain people, it also carries some risks you should consider:
1. Nutrient Deficiencies
People of any age should be aware that any diet, including IF, may increase your risk for nutrient deficiencies. This potential problem can be especially problematic in menopausal women who require an increase in key nutrients like vitamin D to keep their bones strong.
2. Re-bound Binging
Another common complication is that people binge or eat unhealthy during the time they can eat, which can lead to unhealthy eating habits and blood sugar problems. Getting plenty of calories is important, but you'll want to be sure you are getting the right calories.
3. Blood Sugar Problems
If you have a metabolic condition like type 2 diabetes, intermittent fasting may not be safe because it can interfere with blood sugar control and increase your risk for hypoglycemia. Before trying any diet, it's essential to consult your doctor.
Certain medications are best when taken with some food in your stomach. And because some medications can affect your blood glucose levels, talk to your doctor first before trying intermittent fasting.
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